by Chris Boehm
The summer vacation is wrapping up with a fury, something Nikki Shuler can definitely attest to.
The new head volleyball coach at Lehman High School is set to lead the Lobos into exhibition action Friday, just two weeks after meeting many of her players for the first time.
Shuler said she would have a final roster by Thursday morning, just one day before Lehman takes on Smithville 5 p.m. at home. The former Akins coach held three days of tryouts starting Monday, evaluating approximately 48 players for consideration among freshman, junior varsity and varsity levels.
“We’ve been quite busy,” Shuler said. “But I’ve got a great coaching staff, and we’ve been preparing for this for a month, watching film and holding coaching meetings.”
The program’s coaching staff is almost entirely new; just Kirsten Lewis remains from last season. Aside from Shuler, new to the Lobos are freshman coach Gloria Sandoval and JV coach Vanessa Mauk.
With a new staff to oversee the players, Shuler decided to have all returning players try out for the team in order to get her own feel for the talent at her disposal. The coach said the decision did not rub players the wrong way.
“From what I’ve seen (the returning players) are going to fit in well,” Shuler said. “But we have three new coaches, and we want our take on the players. All coaches are different.”
Players echoed the coach’s thoughts.
“We’re not insulted (at having to try out),” said returning junior Ashley Fernandez, an outside hitter and middle blocker. “You just have to prove yourself to the new coach and start over.”
Monday was also the start of two-a-day practices, with workouts going from 8 to 11 a..m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The practices were a marked difference from the regime of Rad Allen, who coached the team last year.
“It’s a lot more upbeat,” said junior outside hitter and setter Nicole Morales. “We’re tired but we’ve just got to get back in shape. (Coach Shuler’s) definitely speeding things up.”
Despite the increase in conditioning, Shuler said most of the players came into practice in good shape and was pleased with the talent that came out.
“They’ve looked good,” Shuler said. “We had no idea, but they’re in a lot better shape than we thought they’d be.”
Shuler, a resident of Buda, was the head volleyball coach at Akins two seasons ago, but took the 2006 season off for maternity leave while continuing to teach.
“This is right on my doorstep,” Shuler said. “Lehman’s a new and upcoming school and there’s a lot of fresh talent. I’m excited to be here.”
The program will carry anywhere from 35 to 45 players, depending on whether or not Shuler decides to field one or two freshman squads. The coach said that mostly depends on what the other teams in district 26-4A decide to do, as the second team would need someone to compete against.
Friday’s exhibition game with be a casual affair, Shuler said. Coaches will be allowed to step onto the court and make substitutions as they like. The head coach likened it to a practice with another team, and said she was not concerned about the quick turnaround between finalizing a roster and going into action against another school.
“The format’s pretty flexible. I anticipate things running smoothly,” Shuler said.
Saturday the Lobos hit the road to face Kerrville and other schools in exhibition play; the teams’ first regular season date is set for Tuesday against Liberty Hill and Crockett.
Wednesday is the last of two-a-day practices. Thursday the team will hold a practice at 4 p.m., scrimmage at 6 p.m. and mandatory parent meeting at 7 p.m. Practices from then on will be 4 to 7 p.m. until school starts Aug. 27, when they will go from 4 to 6:30 p.m.